“I have had play dates where parents have said to me that they do not believe in imaginary play as they see it as a ludicrous waste of time. Well, not in this house, we spend a lot of time every day imagining, going on journey’s, dressing up etc etc.”
It really saddens me that parents are not aware of the value of imaginative play to young children. I completely understand that as parents we want our children to be intelligent and to succeed academically. I get that. My question is, “Don’t we want our children to be successful, well rounded individuals?’”
If so, then we must also value imaginative play for the many learning opportunities it provides for children.
Imaginative play is not a waste of time. Educational researchers have reported the benefits to children’s language, learning and social potential since the 1960’s!
Provides children with a ‘safe’ avenue for acting out the ideas they are developing about the world. By safe, I mean without the judgment or interference of adults.
Let me give you an example. Immy and I recently went on a play date with a new group of children we had not previously met. Immy is just two, the other children ranged from 2 1/2- 3 1/2. During the course of the play date, there were a couple of incidents involving sharing and turn taking (or rather the absence of it) amongst the children, which is completely normal for children within this age range. At one stage, Immy and another little boy tussled over a play teapot and Immy had difficultly understanding why it wasn’t yet her turn, even though she was saying, “My turn now.” We had a few tears of frustration which I know are simply a normal part of being two and learning about the world.
Shortly after we got home, I heard Immy saying, “My turn now. Share. You share.” I peeked around the corner and saw her sitting with her two mini dolls in hand acting out what had happened earlier at the play date. Through her imaginative play she was trying to make sense of the social world, her play was helping to reinforce the life lessons she is learning.
Aids language development: Studies have found that children engaging in role play use much more explicit, descriptive language in their play, thus developing a richer, more complex vocabulary. Especially when engaging with other children in dramatic play (role play and make believe play).
Here is another example, this one is taken from the daily dairy of my former child care centre and involves three 4 year old boys and their educator;
D transformed into a Mexican dancer, with sombrero on head and a musical dancing stick in his hand. He twirled and swirled, sashayed and jiggled, tapped with his feet and threw his stick lightly into the air. He did this for quite some time, clearly absorbed in his dancing routine. J soon followed with a sombrero and dancing stick of his own. The two danced and danced, oblivious to all else.
Educator: “Hey Mexican dancers! Time to go to sleep. It’s night time.”
D: “It’s night time… but I don’t want to sleep. I’m having my show…I’m not tired.”
J: “I’m ALLERGIC to sleep.”
Educator: “What? Allergic to sleep?” (amused)
J: “Yes, when I sleep noodles will come out of my nose.”
D: “Yes, I’m allergic to sleep too and when I sleep noodles will come out of my nose.”
Educator: “Is that so…”
M (onlooker): “I’m allergic to dancing!”
I see this as a wonderful example of children experimenting with language and its many meanings through their imaginative play.
Aids emotional development: It helps children to develop empathy and consideration of others and allows them to express their own feelings and emotions, both positive and negative. Think of a child soothing a doll to sleep or alternatively, grumbling at the doll to ‘eat up her dinner.’
Aids social development: Imaginative play allows children to practice social skills and demonstrate their understanding of social roles, for example, how to enter a group and how to negotiate with other children. These are all essential skills, necessary for living a full and happy life within the broader community.
Provides for extended play: Young children engage and persevere in imaginative play over extended periods of time. Often for much longer periods then they demonstrate in other forms of play.
When we look at the list of skills employers are seeking in the working world of today (Skills for Success: What Employers Want – from Graduate Careers Australia), a strong emphasis is placed on the skills of;
- Team work
- Creative problem solving
- Emotional intelligence
- Interpersonal skills
- Community involvement
The development of these skills is just as important as their academic ability. In fact, in some professional fields, they are actually more important. Imaginative play alone, with other children, or with interested adults, will help to develop these important lifelong skills.
So you tell me, is imaginative play just a waste of time?
- Tips for Parents: Embracing Pretend Play
- Encouraging Independent Play
- Loose Parts for Creative and Imaginative Play